Capybara

capybara

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The capybara is a large rodent living in the Amazon Rain forest in South America. These animals have large, blunt heads and short, stocky bodies. They look almost like a hairy pig with a normal nose instead of a snout. The capybara has very coarse fur which can be dark brown, reddish brown as in the picture above, or yellowish brown. These rodents are semi-aquatic, and the one shown above is soaking wet. The way their head is shaped helps them in their aquatic lifestyle. They are able to swim with just a very small part of their head abode water, and their ears, eyes, and nostrils will all be above. This is because these three body parts are placed at the top of their head.

There are a few other ways this rodent is specialized for living in water. The first of these is the amount of fatty tissue these animals have. The fat makes them more buoyant in water. Capybaras are different than most rodents in the way their feet are shaped. Instead of having fingery front legs, all of the capybara’s legs are partially webbed. This does make it easier for them to swim, but it makes it impossible to hold food in their front paws like other rodents do. They are also tailless, unlike other rodents.

The name capybara is thought to come from some South American tribal language, and it means “Master of the Grasses.” Their scientific species name, “hydrochaeris,” is Greek for “water pig,” which seems to be a fitting name for this animal.

Male capybaras can be distinguished from the females by the large, bald, black bump on their head. This is actually a scent gland that secretes a sticky white fluid thought to be key in signalling dominance. It is obvious that the individual shown above is a male because it has this bump.

Size

Capybaras are the largest rodents in the world. They can sometimes weigh as much as an adult human! From nose to rump, these giants can be from 39 to 51 inches (100-130 cm) long. They can be up to two feet (60 cm) tall at the shoulders. Adult capybaras have a large weight range. They can be as small as just 60 pounds (27 kg) or as heavy as 174 pounds (79 kg). Surprisingly the females are usually larger than the males.

Diet

These rodents, like most rodents, are complete herbivores. They do eat a variety of plants though. Capybaras are grazers much like cows are. They eat mainly grasses and aquatic plants, but they will also sometimes eat fruit, grains, stems, reeds, seeds, nuts, and bark. One not so pleasant fact about these animals is that they are cophrophagous. This is a big word meaning they eat dung, usually their own, to gain beneficial bacteria that break down plant fibers. They spend part of each morning re-ingesting the food they ate the day before. It is estimated that adult capybaras eat between six and eight pounds (2.7-3.6 kg) of grass each day!

Habitat and range

The majority of South America is home to these giant rodents. They live mainly in the northern two-thirds of the continent as the southern part can get cold in the winter. The range map below shows the capybara’s range, though some sources give them a larger range than this.

capybara range

The habitat that these animals live in is mainly swamps and marshes. They like these areas because there is plenty of grass for food as well as a lot of water for hiding from predators. During the rainy season, they may also live in flooded rain forest areas as well as flooded grasslands. The capybaras will live close to dry ground, however, as they will need that for their young before they are able to swim.

Status and threats

Capybaras are classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Redlist. Despite this, they still have many predators and threats. Even though they are very large, these animals have several natural predators even as adults. These include anacondas and caimans, which can hide in the waters the capybaras frequent, as well as jaguars. The juveniles also sometimes fall prey to ocelots and harpy eagles. These rodents forrage in groups, and at least one individual always has his eyes open for predators. If any is spotted, he gives an alarm bark to warn the others of the threat. They usually then hide in the water with just their nose, eyes, and ears above water. Sometimes they will completely submerge themselves, and they can stay this way for up to 5 minutes at a time!

Their main threats are humans, though. Capybaras are hunted for their meat and their skin, which can be used to make leather. In some places, people raise these animals on farms, so when they are wanted for meat or their skin, captive ones can be used instead of wild ones. This helps relieve the strain on the wild population. Another human-caused threat capybaras face, actually one that all rain forest inhabitants face, is deforestation.

Reproduction, young, and family life

Capybaras usually live in a family group of around ten individuals. This consists of one dominant male, a few females, some juveniles and maybe one or two subordinate males. There is no definitive mating season for these animals, as they mate all year long. There is a peak in breeding at the beginning of the rainy season, though. When a male decides to mate with one of the females in his group, he will follow her closely until she is ready to mate with him. During this time several other males may decide to fight for her. If one of them wins, he will start following the female instead. The young capybaras develop inside their mother for about 150 days before the litter of two to eight babies is born. To see a video of what life is like for capybaras click here. This video includes them eating, running to hide in the water and fighting for the right to mate.

Shortly after birth, the young are able to stand and walk. Within just one week, they start grazing with the rest of the herd. They continue to drink the milk of their mother and other females in the group for the next three months. By the time they are one year old, the young capybaras are ready to leave their parent’s group and join their own group. In the wild, these animals usually live about six years, though this can be up to ten. In captivity, such as in zoos and as pets (yes, some people do have pet capybaras), these giant rodents can live up to 12 years.

Don’t forget to scroll down and comment your guess about what the next animal is!

mystery animal

Sources:

Photo credits:

  • Capybara – Charlesjsharp
  • Capybara range – WolfmanSF
  • Mystery animal – Samuel Blanc
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